Kris Kristofferson @ Sands Bethlehem Event Center

BETHLEHEM, PA—If there was a Cultural Mount Rushmore, Kris Kristofferson would be one of the faces chiseled out of stone. Looking every inch the rock star at 80, this bona-fide American Treasure—maybe the greatest living songwriter of them all—wore his cleanest dirty shirt and stumbled on the stage to meet the fans. Receiving an ovation for the gods, he looked around and asked, “Did I miss something?”

He then proceeded to sing 29 songs in two sets with just his guitar and harmonica. These are the songs sewn into the very fabric of our souls so that when he stumbled over a word or two, there were plenty of us to help sing with him. “Me And Bobby McGee,” “Help Me Make It Through The Night” and “Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” all came early. It was mesmerizing.

He didn’t talk much. He kept starting songs that turned out not only to be profound (the exquisite Sands sound system helped everyone hear every word) but alternately angry (“They Killed Him”), sad (“For The Good Times”), hopeful (“Here Comes That Rainbow Again”), humorous (“If You Don’t Like Hank Williams”), wistful (“Nobody Wins”) and spiritual (“Why Me, Lord”). And they were all his.

With self-deprecating humor, he made fun of his own guitar playing and harmonica blowing. He clearly did not expect the passionate gush of love from the nearly 2,000 in attendance (“I’m gonna wake up in the middle of the night tonight and think, ‘man, that was a good show!’”)

The new songs from Cedar Creek Sessions fit in smoothly. There were some moments, though, from his older stuff, that this reporter will remember for the rest of his life. When he sang the line from “Shipwrecked in the Eighties” about not knowing “how much longer there is to go on,” it raised goosebumps. When he sang the line from “Best Of All Possible Worlds” that goes “there’s still a lot of drinks that I ain’t drunk and lots of thoughts that I ain’t thunk,” someone near me shouted out “damn right.”

It was obvious he was feeling his mortality and a host of songs exemplified it like “Feeling Mortal,” “From Here To Forever” and “A Moment of Forever” with the line “I was old enough to learn something new/I’m so glad I got to dance with you/for a moment of forever.” When he ended it all with “Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends,” there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. “This could be our last night together,” he practically whispered. “We may never pass this way again/Just let me enjoy it until it’s over.” He even shouted out, “I really don’t want to know” because, of course, we all know what end awaits us.

This is a life made for Hollywood retelling. Kris, in various eras, was a Rhodes Scholar, a boxer, a Captain in the U.S. Army, a pilot and a movie star. Now he’s Shakespeare. And it’s all on display with the release of Columbia/Legacy’s 16-disc boxed set The Complete Monument & Columbia Albums Collection.

Among the shows upcoming at the Sands are Rain: A Tribute To The Beatles March 21, Wayne Newton March 24, Idina Menzel April 5, and Kansas May 27.